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Fraud Risk for Seniors: Debt Collection Scams

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Imagine sitting down to eat and receiving the sixth phone call of the day from an unrecognized phone number. The call goes unanswered, but a voice message is left. The message claims that several hundred dollars are owed to a collection agency, and that if this debt is not paid within 24 hours, a warrant for arrest will be issued. The fear and potential humiliation that comes with such a threat often leads to returning such a call.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) report in "Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide" that this scenario (and others like it) are common schemes to defraud citizens, particularly seniors. These are Phantom Debt Collection Scams which try to trick victims into paying debt that does not really exist. These schemes center around phony debt collectors who contact older adults by phone who often use scare tactics like having an individual arrested as a threat to coerce immediate payment. Phony debt collectors usually have some information about the individuals they call, which provides some veneer of legitimacy.

Characteristics of these types of scams include a debt collector who:

  • refuses to provide information about the specific debt owed.
  • refuses to provide a mailing address or phone number.
  • claims criminal charges can be filed if the debt is not paid immediately.
  • asks for sensitive personal information.
  • requests payment through anonymous means, such as buying and sending a pre-paid debit card, providing a pre-paid card number over the phone, using a wire transfer or electronic transfer, and even providing direction on making a payment into a cryptocurrency wallet.

Respond to someone claiming to be a debt collector by asking for more information. Do not give into threats.

  • Ask a caller trying to collect a supposed debt his/her name, company, street address, and telephone number.
  • Request an explanation in writing of the debt, including information about any interest, fees or charges added to the original amount, the name of the original creditor, and how to dispute the debt.
  • If information the collector provides cannot be verified, do NOT provide any payment or financial information (such as bank account number or credit card number).
  • Do NOT provide personal information such as social security number or date of birth.
  • Keep letters or documents a debt collector sends and copies of anything sent to a collector, and keep notes with dates and times of conversations for any phone calls that take place.
  • A guide for letters that can be used to respond to debt collectors can be found at consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/debt-collection.

Know your rights and protect yourself.